British Columbia is getting greener by the day. A Canadian leader in energy-efficient building practices and code development, the province is raising the standard for new construction with the BC Energy Step Code and initiatives like CleanBC, which encourages energy-saving improvements in existing buildings—including residential properties—and supporting communities in reducing greenhouse gases as we all prepare for and mitigate the effects of climate change.

The plan looks to lower climate-changing emissions by 40% by 2030—an ambitious goal that the Province is inching toward with incremental steps to increase energy-efficiency requirements in the BC Building Code and to make new buildings net-zero energy ready by 2032.

But where does this leave the average BC homeowner looking to upgrade their existing home to meet energy efficiency targets or build a new home that will sustain into the future? Where do they begin to pull their high-performance dream home together on paper and, most importantly, at the bank?

British Columbia’s experienced residential green builders and designers say the best way to implement green building practices into a new build or renovation is to divert budget to the most durable materials and to systems that are too difficult to upgrade later. They advise on planning ahead, assembling a great team, and most importantly, keeping it simple.


“Early decisions save time and money in the overall process,” says Graeme Huguet, managing director for My House Design/Build/Team. “Building envelope and proper HVAC design should be the priority as these are areas that can’t be changed easily in the future but provide the biggest return on investment and most energy efficient results.”

My House Design/Build/Team incorporates the Built Green Canada checklist into every project it takes on, whether a kitchen and bath renovation, a whole restoration, a full custom home or a laneway. The team also includes an energy advisor who monitors and consults on every project.

“Any green building design starts with creating a home that needs less energy to heat and cool, followed by high-performance mechanicals and appliances, smart home technology, efficient plumbing and electrical fixtures, and sustainable finishing materials used as often and in the most valuable ways possible,” Huguet says.

David Adair is director of Blackfish Homes Ltd., which operates in the Lower Mainland focusing on the North Shore and Vancouver, as well as Gabriola Island and Mid-Vancouver Island. He agrees that mechanical systems should be an early consideration, along with building envelope.

“We encourage tight, low air-change house wrap systems coupled with exterior insulation under the finish sidings,” he says. “This would be a very expensive change to do in the future and would not pay for itself in its returns. But to do this work during the build the home will stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer without added energy costs.”

“Most importantly, keep the design simple,” says Damon Gray, founder and CEO of NZ Builders Ltd., a general contractor in Victoria specializing in building high-performance and passive solar homes on Vancouver Island and the surrounding area. “Spend money on durable products and systems, such as insulation, durable cladding systems and small, low maintenance heating and ventilation systems. Our approach to green is building a home that will last generations with low maintenance needed and no need to remediate the cladding or structure in the owners’ grandchildren’s lifetime. If you follow energy efficiency rules in building your home, it becomes a healthy home.”

Approaching this “simple and durable” mantra applies in the design parameters, as well. Khang Nguyen, founder, Architrix, a Vancouver-based residential planning and design firm, relies on creating simple shapes, construction methods and execution of details, and then choosing the most durable material, systems and methods as possible.

“We believe that producing easy to build buildings that last a really long time is ultimately better for the environment,” he says.


The biggest barrier to green building that homeowners perceive is cost—that building a greener, more sustainable and high-efficiency home is sure to be out of reach or break the bank. But with the right planning and pre-construction considerations, that is not necessarily the case. “We have always believed that healthy homes needed to be built as a system, not a collection of parts,” Adair says.

In fact, the only difference in cost between Blackfish code homes and high-performance homes is the third-party validation and testing. “We look to source and install products that have full year-round returns, with particular attention to quality and durability in systems that would be difficult to change or update in the future,” Adair says.

When managing the budget, consider diverting money—rather than spending more of it—to portions of the build that ensure better products and place efficiency where it counts.

“For example, spend more money on amazing windows versus on your kitchen appliances at the onset, then eventually upgrade your kitchen appliances over time,” Khang says. He recommends that homeowners consider the long-term effects of energy efficiency in terms of heating cooling cost versus up front initial costs of good materials and equipment.

“Do the research into what it means to build an energy efficient home, the methods, systems and costs required,” he says. “Then, research the teams that are able to execute it. From there the homeowner will be guided based on their desire to build a greener building relative to their budget.”

Huguet notes another common myth is that a high-efficiency furnace or heat pump will by itself save money and make a home greener—untrue, he says. “The house is a system, and all areas need to be discussed such as windows, insulation, heating, cooling, ventilation and electrical needs,” he says. “These components have to work together for maximum sustainability and efficiency.”

And speaking of heat, Gray says the commonly held belief that “heat goes up” is also incorrect. “Actually, heat takes the least path of resistance,” he says. “The ground is 10 degrees, so if you don’t insulate under your slab, the heat in your home will go into the earth.”

Approximately 30% of your slab area is the building envelope. If the foundation wall is not insulated, 80% of that heat is lost.

The same goes for hot water tanks that are not insulated or do not have insulation separating the bottom of the tank from the earth. “That 10-degree earth will suck the life out of your home,” Gray says. “The square footage of your slab adds up to a considerable amount of your buildings’ envelope area.”

He adds that some people tend to hyperfocus on lights when thinking about energy efficiency, but they only make up 4% of the energy bill, and even less if they are LED lights. It’s more effective to turn attention to hot water, heating and cooling loads, which demand the most energy use.

“Turn your hot water tank down by five degrees and you will save 30% of the heat demand needed for that tank,” Gray says.



So, what is the best way to tackle green building when it comes to technologies and methods? Khang says the best and most effective building technology is your thermal envelope. “If you can create a well insulated and airtight envelope, then that is most of the battle,” he says. “From there, getting solar PVs to help supplement your electrical usage is another great use of improving technology.”

Gray agrees, noting that sun—when harnessed correctly—is a resource that is essential to the health of the home and its occupants. He also points to some basic principles, like the more insulation the better, the value of airtightness, and the importance of having good quality ventilation systems.

“I like simple wall assemblies that are not complicated and are durable,” Gray says. “For example, our Monolith Wall System consists of concrete, rebar and insulation to create a wall from exterior cladding to drywall. This deletes six materials needed to complete the same wall assembly if you were to do a light gauge steel or effective R-value wood frame system.”

Monolith Systems allow builders to obtain airtightness and full wrap of insulation, while preserving the integrity of the window install and flashing details.

Jessica Owen, brand champion from Innotech Windows + Doors, knows just how important those details are. Innotech manufactures high-performance windows and doors for sustainable homes, including custom manufactured tilt and turn windows and exterior doors that help exceed performance targets.

Owen says homeowners should never underestimate the impact that doors and windows can make, particularly on budget, product performance and overall comfort of the home. For example, the size, configuration and decorative options, such as grids and finishes, of the windows and doors all affect the budget. These same design choices, along with glazing options, also affect the performance of the product.

“And because windows and doors are such an integral part of a home’s building envelope, the design of the windows and doors, including orientation, have a significant impact on the home’s energy-efficiency and comfort for the occupants,” Owen says.

This is an important point, especially given the foundational importance building envelope performance. “Windows and doors are critical,” Owen says. “A highly energy-efficient and durable home that is comfortable in all seasons is one that has prioritised the building envelope at every stage of the design and build process.”


Huguet suggests starting with an Integrative Design Process, which is a comprehensive holistic approach to high-performance design and construction that brings together energy efficiency, sustainability, Built Green, architectural, interior and HVAC design teams from the outset.

“These teams are usually considered separately,” he says. “But the IDP approach ensures all goals are met, everyone involved is on the same page, and there is no disappointment at the end of the project.”

Adair encourages homeowners to educate themselves about what options and levels of builds are available so they can avoid false claims or shady building practices. “Any builder selling a ‘built to the standards’ home that is not testing or validating the work via a third-party program like Built Green, Net Zero or Passive House is misleading their clients,” Adair says. “The process needs to be transparent and able to be validated.”

Learn more about Building Green in BC:

My House Design/Build/Team

Blackfish Homes Ltd.

NZ Builders Ltd.


Innotech Windows + Doors